Survey:AOL falls short on customer service


October 7, 2001


A new study by the Gartner Group confirms what most independent Internet providers have known for a long time -- America Online may be the biggest Internet access provider in the world, but they frequently aren't the best.

AOL may boast more than 31 million subscribers worldwide, but when it comes to customer service, the service fails miserably.

A survey completed in August confirms the notion that many users and independent Internet providers have suspected -- AOL Time Warner is the least trusted company on the Internet when compared to banks, credit card companies, retailers and even Microsoft.

In recent times, AOL users have also complained about pricing and getting customer support issues handling in a timely manner. The number of anti-AOL Web sites has grown, the survey found.

AOL may capture newcomers who venture on the Internet, but many users -- once they get some experience -- wake up to the fact that they can usually access the Internet at less cost, greater reliability and with less hassle than they can with AOL.

In response to the survey's findings, an AOL spokesman smugly replied that the company's growth has never been stronger.

LEGAL ACTION II. Now that Napster has been collared and is being relaunched as a pay service that will respect music labels' copyrights, attorneys for the music industry are setting their sights elsewhere.

They began last week the chore of protecting their copyrights from infringement by the multitude of Napster clones that have filled the void that Napster left when it was shut down. Lawsuits against the services are underway at this writing.

But this time, it's more than just music labels joining in the lawsuits. The next-generation of file-swapping services allows any files to be swapped -- including music, video and even software applications.

The plaintiffs in the latest legal action include MGM Studios, Columbia Pictures, and the Sony and Warner music groups

The companies claim that the file-sharing software used by Grokster, and MusicCity networks is being used and dedicated to the unauthorized distribution of their protected works.

MusicCity is based in Franklin, Tenn., while Grokster operates from the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Both companies use similar software developed by Amsterdam-based Consumer Empowerment BV. MusicCity calls its software "Morpheus," while Grokster's version is named after the company.

Both services have grown significantly since Napster went offline earlier this summer.

They differ from Napster in the way their network is built -- Napster used a central computer for indexing files, while Grokster and MusicCity do not. In fact, even if MusicCity were shut down, the software installed on users' computers would allow the sharing network to continue.

``The network is self-sustaining,'' Steve Griffin, MusicCity chief executive said recently.

Attorneys for the music and movie industry say both companies must perform housekeeping and maintenance chores to keep their services working, and that both do have control of what sorts of files are swapped and shared.

At this writing, MusicCity's Morpheus was still in operation, though the legal challenges will certainly threaten its operation.

STUDENT DISCOUNT. Hoping to prompt more people to upgrade, Microsoft Corp. will begin selling its Office XP business software at a steep discount to students and teachers.

While Microsoft has always offered volume discounts to schools and reduced prices at university bookstores on its products, this will be the first time the discount will be available to K-12 users at mainstream computer outlets.

Students and teachers won't need to show identification or other proof they are students, though the licensing agreement does stipulate the version is for student/academic use.

The discount version will include all the software of its full-price edition, including Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. The documentation is geared toward users with some familiarity with earlier versions of Office.

The discount version will be available nationwide on Oct. 25.

For more information, visit on the Web.

ABOUT.COM RETRENCHES. With online advertising revenues still falling off for major Web sites, has laid off 20 percent of its staff and killed off more than 300 of its niche Web sites. plans to move from its old format of information-oriented niche sites to one that emphasizes e-commerce revenues and subscriptions.

The old format that had something for everyone is gone. Gone are sites devoted to education, air travel, women's basketball, animal rights and dozens of other categories.

Sites with similar topics, or within a similar vein will be merged. For example, a site devoted to the Beatles will be merged with one about classic rock 'n' roll music. started life as The Mining Company in 1997, and the site has consistently been in the Top 10 most popular Web sites, according to Jupiter Media Metrix.

For more information, visit at

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